JB: What did we learn about Bautista, Estrada, Pompey, Stroman?

Oct. 26, 2015

What We Learned from the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays Season
By Jay Blue
Blue Jays from Away
The 2015 Toronto Blue Jays season ended and after taking time to come to terms with the loss, it’s on to figuring out what we learned from this season and the playoffs. Here’s my list of nine things that we have discovered about our Toronto Blue Jays.  
 
_ A mediocre record at the 100-game mark doesn’t rule out anything. This is probably the biggest take-away for us fans. The Blue Jays were 50-51 on July 28 after losing to the Philadelphia Phillies. What happened after the Blue Jays pulled the trigger on a series of surprise trades was nothing short of legendary.

_ Alex Anthopoulos is still a ninja. Remember when he used to say that if you’ve heard leaks about a rumoured move, it’s probably not true. Remember how the big trades he’s made came completely out of the blue? Yeah, that’s how the Tulo, Price, Revere and Lowe trades came down. Completely out of the blue. I was definitely out of the loop, being in Germany at the time but, still, from what I’ve gathered, I think they shocked pretty much everyone out there.

_ Don’t make Jose Bautista angry. Don’t brush him back, don’t talk trash to him and definitely don’t give him a chance to win a game with all the pressure in the world on him. Unless you want the Blue Jays to win (which, of course, we do). This postseason, he hit two of the biggest home runs in the team’s history, winning the ALDS series with a mighty swing and almost single-handedly winning Game 6 of the ALCS with two big blasts. When the rest of the big boppers on this team went into hibernation (a Josh Donaldson rocket line-drive out and an Edwin Encarnacion double notwithstanding), Jose came through in the biggest moments on the biggest stage. I’m proud he’s a Blue Jay no matter how many bats he flips.

_ This team needed to get behind to get going. Time and time again in both the regular season and the playoffs, I watched this team get out of the gate slowly and then come storming back to overcome a deficit. They did it against Texas and they almost did it against K.C. I have no idea why this might be, do you?

_ Changing speeds and hitting spots is an effective way to pitch. I see and talk to a lot of minor leaguers in my summer travels and few of them throw 95 miles per hour or more. I hope that they can look at the 2015 season (and ALCS Game 5 performance) by Marco Estrada and take heart: even if they’re not lighting up the radar gun in the minors, they can still have an MLB career. Mark Buehrle’s declining velocity is somewhat of an anomaly. He wouldn’t have made the big leagues throwing 83, but a guy like Estrada who throws 91 on a good day is a viable role model for many of the minor league pitchers in the organization.

_ The Blue Jays need more pitching. The one thing that concerns me just a little bit is the fact that, in their run to the 2015 ALCS, the Blue Jays traded away pretty much all of the minor league pitchers who were in any position to help out the club in 2016. Whether Roberto Osuna and/or Aaron Sanchez are in the 2016 rotation or not, there are still going to be gaping holes in the rotation and the bullpen. Daniel Norris, Miguel Castro, Matt Boyd and Jeff Hoffman are all likely to pitch in the big leagues in 2016 but for another team. They all could have played roles on the 2016 Blue Jays. In my calculations of number of bodies, I’m assuming that Buehrle retires, Dickey returns on his option and the Blue Jays re-sign one of Estrada or Price. Mark Lowe is a free agent and LaTroy Hawkins will likely retire (or find another team to latch on to for another year). Drew Hutchison will try to find his mojo again but there isn’t a lot of young blood to replace the pitchers we lose. This bullpen was thin going into the playoffs and now, without the players that the Jays traded away, the Jays will have to be creative to fill some holes in the offseason.

_ Marcus Stroman is everything we’ve been waiting for. Marcus Stroman has become living proof that it’s not about height. His god-given ability to throw a baseball combined with an insane amount of drive and work ethic has turned him into a stud who can be among baseball’s best. He showed in the playoffs that, after not having thrown in competition for five of the season’s six months, that he could still dominate good teams. I have sky-high expectations for this kid next year.

_ The transition to the major leagues isn’t smooth for everyone. Dalton Pompey, the hometown boy who rose to the big leagues in 2014, struggled. Miguel Castro struggled. They weren’t ready to step into the meat grinder of being major leaguers in 2015 which created big holes in the bullpen and the outfield. Fortunately, AA addressed both at the trade deadline with the acquisitions of Ben Revere, Mark Lowe and LaTroy Hawkins. They found out what Kevin Pillar and Ryan Goins both did in 2014: playing in the major leagues is hard and it’s about more than just physical ability. Goins and Pillar’s defensive gems kept them in the lineup (injuries to other players helped get them playing time too) and both developed into players who could contribute at the major league level, showing excellent growth in 2015. Pillar is starting to become the hitter that everyone who’s seen him play in the minor leagues knows he is. Goins, well, he was never the “plus” hitter in the minors that Pillar was and will still have to grow with the bat to be an everyday player. Then again, Roberto Osuna and Devon Travis took to the big leagues like they were born into it.

_ Living and dying via the home run is a big risk when facing good pitching. This is probably the biggest thing that we can take from the series with the Kansas City Royals. Big sluggers get cold. Few hitters are Miguel Cabrera-like or even Mike Trout-like and can contribute even when they’re cold. When you have a lineup that’s stacked with home run hitters like Bautista, Donaldson and Encarnacion, if they go cold at the wrong time, you’re in a world of trouble. The Blue Jays hit against Texas: they had five players with OPSs over .900 (Colabello - 1.099; Encarnacion - 1.034; Donaldson - .944; Bautista - .941; Pillar - .905). Against the Royals, they had only one (Bautista - 1.184). Donaldson hit for an .849 OPS and Troy Tulowitzki hit .826. It drops off precipitously from there. Russell Martin absolutely disappeared, as did Chris Colabello and Edwin for the most part. Collectively, the Jays hit .234/.323/.386 while the Royals hit .294/.333/.453. The timing of the Royals’ offensive output was also a lot more conducive to scoring, getting hit after hit after hit, squaring up the ball and hitting it in the right places. While BABIP plays a role, surely there has to be some skill there and the Blue Jays may need to reconfigure a little bit to balance their lineup more effectively.

What else did we learn?  

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Jay Blue

A lifelong Toronto Blue Jays fan, Jay Blue started blogging about the Jays when he was living in Berlin, Germany. He founded his own blog, Blue Jays from Away, to write about developments with his home town team, focusing on the Jays' minor league system. When he's not watching baseball, he is usually on the diamond umpiring or he's pursuing his research interests in the field of ethnomusicology.